Equitable Life — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 17th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 3:30 pm, 17th December 2008

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to make a statement on Equitable Life.

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Government are giving very careful consideration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report into the prudential regulation of Equitable Life. The Government expect to be in a position to respond to the report in an Oral Statement to the other place during the week commencing 12 January.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that response. Over 1 million policyholders are still suffering from the collapse of Equitable Life and the Government have been sitting on the ombudsman's report for the last five months. On 10 July the Economic Secretary said that a Statement would be made in the autumn. In October Ministers in another place and here said "shortly". On 5 November the Prime Minister said that it would happen before Christmas. Now we hear that it will be made only to another place during the week of 12 January. Why are the Government dithering again?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has produced a very thorough report. The production of the report took over four years. That came after Lord Penrose's report, which took two years. The Parliamentary Ombudsman tabled her report immediately before the Recess. This House would expect that report to receive due and careful attention. The report runs to 15 chapters; the issues involved are technical and complex. I would rather defend a delay in order to produce a correct and well considered report than a hurried response which had not received full and complete consideration.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Spokesperson in the Lords, Treasury

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many people find it bizarre that if you invest recklessly in an Icelandic bank you get a 100 per cent government bail-out immediately, but if you invested prudently in Equitable Life you have had nothing from the Government but prevarication and delay?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the noble Lord makes two mistakes, I say with due respect. First, he confuses a deposit with an investment. Secondly, he seeks to conflate two entirely separate issues.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, why was the Prime Minister unable to keep his promise?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Government will make a full Statement during the week of 12 January, and will do so having given this matter full and complete consideration. Further time is required to complete that process to the high standards that this House would expect from the Government.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Shadow Minister, Treasury

My Lords, the Minister's attitude simply does not wash. It took so long for the ombudsman's report to see the light of day because the Treasury wilfully used delaying tactics to ensure that it could not be released. It has now been released and we have been waiting since July for the Government's response. The Equitable Members Action Group estimates that around 15 people from the group who suffered die each day. That means that the delay since July has meant that 3,000 more people have died. The delay until January will mean another 500. Do the Government have no shame?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the Parliamentary Ombudsman has thanked the Government for their support during her inquiry. The incidents to which the noble Baroness referred date back to the early part of the past decade, and the major issues to which she drew attention occurred when another party was in government. It is not advisable for the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to talk of shame. If there is shame, it rests as much on the other side of the House.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Spokesperson in the Lords (Discrimination Law Refrom), Women and Equality

My Lords, is it not a shame that parliamentarians such as myself cannot discover what happens in each government department to recommendations made by the parliamentary commissioner for administration when we ask Questions, because we are told that there is no centrally held information? Is the noble Lord aware that we then have to table Questions to each and every government department, when it would be perfectly easy and much cheaper if the Government got their act in order and had one central place that would tell the House how many recommendations there have been and what happened to them across the board?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, I see merit in the issue raised. I will certainly seek to obtain an explanation, which I will share with the noble Lord.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the comments by Lord Penrose about the period before 1997—that the society was largely the author of its own misfortunes? If so, does that not mean that we may appropriately be looking at a hardship scheme, but not necessarily compensation?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. Lord Penrose concluded that the Equitable was largely the author of its own misfortune.

Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Spokesperson in the Lords, Treasury, Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions

My Lords, I suggest to the noble Lord that we really should not be worrying about party games as to whether the Conservatives or Labour are at fault. We have a situation where many savers, in good faith, are greatly concerned. Will the noble Lord assure us that the Statement will be repeated in this place and that we will have an opportunity for proper scrutiny?

Photo of Lord Myners Lord Myners Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, I am happy to give such an assurance.